1. Colbert does sometimes agree with his character.
But he won’t tell you when, because that’s the great fun of it all. Jokingly, he said he is about 13.4% the same as his character.
“There was a great study by the University of Ohio. They asked two groups of people, who self-identified as conservative and liberal, and an equal number of them liked the show,” Colbert relayed. “They asked these people, ‘Do you think Stephen Colbert is a liberal or conservative?’ And a majority of liberals answered that Stephen Colbert is a liberal pretending to be a conservative, but the conservative answer was that Stephen Colbert is a conservative pretending to be a liberal pretending to be a conservative, and I cannot be happier with that answer,” the late night host said. “Because sometimes it’s true, and I really enjoy jumping over that line.”
2. Why is there one woman and one person of color on the Colbert Report staff right now?
A number of his writers go way back with Colbert, from his Second City and Strangers With Candy days to the Daily Show era. But when he’s considering new hires, he doesn’t look at the gender or race of the person who submitted the joke packet.
“I don’t know what race the person is when I’m reading the jokes. I’m just trying to see whether it makes me laugh,” he said. “I don’t know if there are a lot of African-Americans or Hispanic people applying for a job for my show or other shows, and maybe my tastes don’t match up or they didn’t have a funny packet, or maybe they’re not applying. I don’t get stats on that. The agencies send us people, or we ask around for people. It would be wonderful to have a diverse writing staff; I’m very lucky to have this staff. They were all so deserving.”
Colbert also joked that, while it seems that just about everyone on the staff is white, “Some of us are Jewish, and those people have had no cakewalk.”
3. The story behind Colbert’s Daft Punk joke.
“We knew that Daft Punk wouldn’t perform,” Colbert said. “At first, when they said they’d come on, they said they wouldn’t do a song, and then they said they wouldn’t talk to us. And so we had this bit with their manager, and the joke was, since they’re wearing helmets, I’d go, ‘How do I even know that that’s Daft Punk in the helmets? They don’t talk and they won’t play the song, so how do I know?’ And the line we wrote for him was, ‘Stephen, if that wasn’t Daft Punk, they would be doing the song.’”
4. Colbert’s evisceration of Wheat Thins won the brand an award at Cannes.
When Wheat Thins paid for a product placement on the show in 2012 — one of four sponsorships that Colbert will allow per year — they ended up getting a nearly seven-minute reaming. Their contract had a gaggle of ridiculous stipulations, like “no more than 16 crackers can be shown at one time” and that Wheat Thins must be called an “inclusive” snack, which the host mocked mercilessly. None of that was a meta setup; the memo was very real.
Nabisco later claimed to have loved the spot that ripped apart their corporate insanity — and the segment won a Golden Lion at Cannes for branded content.
5. It took years to get Maurice Sendak on the show.
The show’s booker had been in contact with Sendak for awhile, and he had refused almost all interviews during the last few years of his life. And then finally, he agreed, after a series of phone calls, conference calls, and a lunch explaining what the show was about.
“He had to talk to me on the phone, because I needed to know how [crazy] this guy is,” Colbert remembered. “I talked to him on the phone in this really long process of him saying, ‘Which button do I push? I have to change rooms. I don’t want to talk here. Which button do I push?’ And when he finally got on, he sighed. And I said, ‘Take your time.’ And he said, ‘I’m 83; death looms.’ After the 20-minute conversation, I was like, That’s what humans are like!”
6. There is a trapdoor under Stephen’s desk.
The trapdoor allows for the storage of props, people, and one time, a squawking chicken, that are used for mid-scene pop-up gags. Before the door was installed, they could fit up to four people under Colbert’s desk.
7. They allow dogs at the office.
At this point, there is a pack of dogs that roam the floor. They like Colbert — except when he’s in character, getting ready for a show. Then, they growl at him.
8. Jokes are marked in the scripts with dollar $ign$.
Originally, it was because you don’t see many dollar signs in scripts, and so it made the jokes easier to spot. But now, as they say in the writers’ room, “Funny is money.”
9. The writers all work in pairs.
Though some writers get in at 7 a.m., there isn’t much time to pull a script together — they have several pitch meetings per day, and after those, the writers pair off and spend two hours grinding out scripts. It prevents them from procrastinating and from getting stuck on minor grammar issues. Plus, it allows them to hear their jokes out loud.
“There’s a huge difference between what’s funny on paper and what’s funny in your mouth,” Colbert pointed out. “Some things are deadly serious in your mouth.”
10. One of Colbert’s prime rules is, “Don’t punch down.”
Even in his conservative character, Colbert is speaking truth to power, always ripping down the bigots, those who deny others opportunity, and warmongers.
When people laugh at a cheap joke at a victim’s expense, Colbert calls it, “The mouthful of blood.”
“Sometimes, you don’t realize you do it, but then you’ll say, ‘Oh shit, I made the wrong person the target of that joke.’ Because when the audience laughs, it sounds like they’re spraying blood.”